A Potted History of Funerals

The Victorians had a lot to do with making Funerals gloomy affairs. Queen Victoria's 50 years of mourning her husband Prince Albert brought death into sharp relief for the average person.

She erected statutes and built civic buildings in his memory and so began the fashion of commemorating the dead with grandiose funereal memorials.

Before that the average person’s graves were marked with a wooden structure that weathered away. It was usual for new graves to be dug in the older part of the graveyard, any remains uncovered in the process were placed in the crypt of the church in Ossuary's.

The Parish Church of St Leonards at Hythe in Kent has a good example of the genre.

Historically most funerals would have been conducted at the graveside, which explains why it is difficult to carry a coffin into many churches and chapels. Indeed some chapels have a wall immediately inside the door, so the congregation has to turn sharp left or right to enter.

The first Municipal Cemeteries in the UK were built in the early 1800’s but cremation has only been available in Britain since 1884; The Cremation Society having a major part to play in its introduction,  successfully lobbying Parliament to introduce a Bill to allow it to take place.

Before that the only option to dispose of mortal remains was burial.

On 26th March, 1885 the first official cremation took place at Woking. Mrs. Pickersgill, a well-known figure in literary and scientific circles, was the first of three cremations that year.

With the advent of cremation people were offered the choice of a non-religious ceremony if they so wished. Many Religions did not approve of cremation for some time after.

A fascinating article on the history of Cremation and Crematoriums was written by The Cremation Society in 1974 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their founding. It can be read by clicking on this link.

In our more enlightened times there are many options available. Green burials, becoming a preferred option for a lot of people. There is a good example at Ketton Park in Rutland near the Georgian Town of Stamford.

From a personal point of view, to be buried in open countryside and have a tree planted in your memory is a fitting way to mark your passing.

Up until quite recently those individuals who were not atheists but who were also not overtly religious had little choice when it came to their Funeral.

Fortunately today people can have a secular ceremony, conducted by a Funeral Celebrant, that includes a prayer or a hymn if they so wish.

But with the emphasis  being firmly placed on the deceased, celebrating the life they lived and putting into words what their family wishes to say about them; a radical development and one that will appeal to more people as time goes on.

I have written a piece on the importance of ritual in modern times which can be accessed by clicking on this link.